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UN E-Government Survey in the News  
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E-government to Create Opportunities for All
Source: http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/newsletter/2010/may/feature.shtml#fea2
Source Date: Monday, May 03, 2010
Created: May 03, 2010

The current global financial and economic crisis is putting tremendous pressure on governments to do more with less. Although financial markets stabilized in 2009 due to massive and internationally coordinated government intervention, the real economy is still in a state of shock with high rates of unemployment and tremendous squeeze on government revenues in many countries. E-government – once a bold experiment and now an important tool for public sector transformation – has progressed to the point where it is now a force for effective governance and citizen participation, both at national and local levels.

With the Millennium Development Goal time horizon of 2015 quickly approaching, it is no longer a question of whether we can afford information and communications technology in health, education, environmental protection and a multitude of other areas, but where to deploy them first and how rapidly gains can be realized.

The “2010 United Nations e-Government Survey: Leveraging e-government at a time of financial and economic crisis” presents various roles for e-government in addressing the ongoing world financial and economic crisis. The public trust that is gained through transparency can be further enhanced through the free sharing of government data based on open standards.

The United Nations global survey of e-government presents a systematic assessment of the use and potential of information and communication technology to transform the public sector by enhancing transparency, efficiency, access to public services and citizen participation in all countries and at all levels of development. By studying broad patterns of e-government around the world, the report identifies leading countries in e-government development. It also suggests a way forward for those that have yet to take advantage of its tremendous power.

E-government at times of financial and economic crisis

Governments are deploying new information and communications technology in response to the global financial crisis. The effect of the crisis on the public sector has been profound. For governments, currently, the most critical issue is how to rebuild trust in a system of financial weaknesses and governmental responses that have proved so highly untrustworthy. Electronic government technologies have the potential to deliver creative options for policy-making processes as well as for the debates that surround them. E-government can act as a means of enhancing the capacity of the public sector, together with citizens, to address particular development issues.

According to the survey, the watchword of e-government is ‘citizen-centric practice’. For a country to be assessed favorably in relation to other countries, there needs to be solid evidence of an approach to e-government development that places citizens at the centre. On-demand access to information, services and social networks on the Internet through a personal computer is no longer considered cutting-edge in developed regions but a norm that many people take for granted.

The same may soon be true of the more advanced middle income countries. Cellular telephones and personal digital assistants have the potential to play the same role for developing countries if governments are able to come to terms with the changing face of technology and innovate with a citizen-centric mindset. For example, alerts sent through short message services (‘text messages’) are being used to notify citizens that a request for assistance has been processed.

The value of e-government will increasingly be defined by its contribution to development for all. Citizen-centricity, inclusiveness, connected government, universal access and use of new technologies such as mobile devices are the benchmarks against which electronic and other innovative forms of public service delivery will be assessed.

E-service delivery and the MDGs

The world economic crisis has savaged government finances. The situation calls for greater agility, efficiency and reach of public services, especially in the sectors of health, education, gender, environment and employment, which are important in their own right and central to achievement of the MDGs.

Poverty eradication is one of the most urgent and compelling development goals. The World Bank estimates that an additional 53 million people in developing countries will fall into poverty on top of the 130 million to 155 million who became poor due to the impact of the food and oil crisis in 2008. Therefore, enhancing employment opportunities is an important and urgent issue for the international community.

E-service delivery can contribute to efforts to address poverty, employment and the impacts of the financial and economic crisis. Governments can provide online public information services to job seekers and online vocational and technical training and entrepreneurial skills development for those who have lost or are at risk of losing their job as well as to vulnerable groups.

In addition, they can provide ICT-based assessment, tracking and monitoring of the activities of the unemployed through the various parts of the employment services system, which is useful in the current situation. These potential solutions need to be innovative and geared towards pro-poor services for poverty eradication and employment, especially in rural areas, where the majority of populations in developing countries live.

Women and e-government

Including women in economic development is an issue high on the current agenda of the international community. Access to the labour market has much to do with economic empowerment for women. Women are often in vulnerable employment and overrepresented in insecure, part-time and short-term jobs, including particularly, in the agricultural sector. As regards to women’s unemployment, the MDG Report 2009 highlights its critical importance and notes that the crisis may hold back progress towards gender equality by creating new hurdles to women’s employment.

E-government can be effectively leveraged for women’s economic empowerment and employment in the crisis. Employment-related e-government solutions include online provision of information on job opportunities for women, in particular for women who can use skills for the global digital economy beyond the limits of their local economy; online skills training for female jobseekers; and online distance learning.

E-government can also enhance information service delivery for much-needed women’s economic empowerment. It can help women to weather the crisis by disseminating information on income-generating opportunities, and by alerting women to other relevant information services.

Women need information about microenterprise loans and other forms of capital for female entrepreneurship, as well as local, regional and global market information and market pricing information. Indeed, uninterrupted flows of microfinance are key to the economic empowerment of women, especially in a time of decreased lending.

E-government can provide information about financial and other forms of assistance provided by governments, international donors and nongovernmental organizations. In addition to these information services, women need to know about online business training and support for women-headed microenterprises, online marketing assistance and online financial services.

A number of conditions would facilitate the delivery of information to women, including: public access like mobile Internet kiosks, especially in rural areas; free access to training on the use of technology; technological solutions that promote targeted access to women, such as voice recognition for people with little or no formal education, graphic interfaces and touch screens; and the provision of information that rural women in developing countries need in an accessible language and format.

Further recommendations

Short of devaluing currencies or defaulting on public debt, governments are finding themselves with few options as they try to balance diminished revenues and increased expenditures. E-government can play there a very important role. Just as technology has always been an important determinant of productivity in the broader economy, so too is the application of information technology in the rate and quality of public service delivery. In a time of economic stress, improved communications and faster response times can make a critical difference to those most at risk.

For example, social networking sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, as well as blogging software and mobile technology, allow governments to tap into the collective knowledge of society quickly and directly. In this way, citizens move from being passive consumers of government services to advisers and innovators contributing ideas that are in better accord with their individual and group needs.

Global collaboration is needed to succeed. With the leadership of United Nations Member States, e-government can become a global priority, creating opportunities for all.

The current global financial and economic crisis is putting tremendous pressure on governments to do more with less. Although financial markets stabilized in 2009 due to massive and internationally coordinated government intervention, the real economy is still in a state of shock with high rates of unemployment and tremendous squeeze on government revenues in many countries. E-government – once a bold experiment and now an important tool for public sector transformation – has progressed to the point where it is now a force for effective governance and citizen participation, both at national and local levels.

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